Sailing season is on!

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 11:00pm

Last October, I wrote a column about sailing and mentioned that my boat, Reverie, needed a new headsail — jib — because I wore the other one out from several years of constant use. The sail was patched, sail taped, careworn, and frayed; however, it had served Reverie well. I had a guy in Jupiter Beach, Florida cut me a new sail in the fall, and about a month ago—after a long winter strapped to her slip in Newport — I finally grabbed the new 135 out of the cabin, pulled it out of the sail bag, and hoisted the brand new, and crisp sail up the track of the headstay and spun it into a tight fit on the roller furling unit. This new sail was going to stiffen the boat when loaded up with wind and would increase Reverie’s speed and performance. I couldn’t wait to test out the new sail.

Reverie was on her mooring just prior to Memorial Day weekend. I had the weekend off from the ferry dock, and figured since the weather forecast looked great it would be a good opportunity to head up to Prudence Island that Saturday and then sail back to Newport on Sunday and take the bride out to the Portside in Galilee for some swordfish. After my wife made me a great batch of chicken to bring up to the island — the woman can cook — I tossed a book and some other gear into my backpack, and off I went to my favorite cove to row my boat, check on a particular Osprey nest, and to test fly the new sail. This is a trifecta of fun stuff for this sailing geezer. Win, win, win!

We had an interesting fall and winter in Point Judith with lots of wind from the ESE, and SSE. We had loads of rain and very little snow. I remember sweeping the snow off the deck of our place and we didn’t really need to pick up a snow shovel all that much at the ferry docks. We dodged some serious snowfall because of the mild temperatures; however, the wind honked and, on several occasions up went the purple flag. Additionally, the rainfall totals broke records this April. Subsequently, there was a serious amount of pent-up demand for people to get outside, peel off some clothing and head to the coast to enjoy the sun. Furthermore, this year, Memorial Day delivered perfect weather.

Newport was like a hot July day when I hit town to go get on the sailboat. The sidewalks of America’s Cup Avenue were packed with strolling tourists. Also, it was blowing twenty knots from the southwest and I figured on a quick downwind sprint to the island — the tide was incoming, too. It would be a fast trip with the new sail. I slipped my mooring pennant and headed out of the busy harbor and in to a bay with a cranking breeze. West of Fort Adams the new jib was unfurled and I put the spurs to Reverie on a broad reach. After I passed a mile north of the Pell Bridge, I swung my boat around to head upwind and strapped in the new jib to see how the new sail performed while going to windward. For a sail to work efficiently the air has to flow down both sides so we can correctly trim the sail. On a sail there are things called telltales which inform the sailor of this airflow. When the telltales are aiming aft on both sides of the sail — while going to windward — then the boat is in the slot or what is also known as the “sweet spot.” (I’m so familiar with my boat that I can feel if she’s in perfect trim.) The new 135 headsail performed perfectly; the sailmaker delivered a great product and Reverie was hauling upwind at hull speed. It’s a great feeling when a sailboat is doing what the designer intended it to do and the physics are in play — interesting stuff.

After testing the new sail heading to windward for a few miles, I cracked her off on a broad reach near the War College and headed north to Prudence Island. It was a perfect day for sailing on Narragansett Bay — sun, a steady breeze and warm temperatures. There was minimal sailboat traffic because April was such a rainy month, and many boat yards were behind schedule to get boats in the water. It’s very hard to do exterior boat maintenance when the weather is damp and cold, and this can be a frustrating thing for boat owners especially when the weather changes for the better and their boats are still on the hard. Given this lack of traffic on the bay, I was surprised when I was on my final tack towards Potter’s Cove on the north end of Prudence Island. The place was packed with boats rafted up five boats to a mooring, with blaring music and people hooting and hollering while diving into the water — pent-up demand, indeed. The season was on!

That night at dusk many of the smaller powerboats left the anchorage and things got quiet. I hopped in my Nutshell pram and rowed over to check on this huge osprey nest I saw last summer, and to see how it stood the strong winter winds. The nest was solid and the Ospreys were on task. After heating up the chicken Cindy made me on my little cooker, I sat in the cockpit and read my book. The next day I caught a nice and brisk following northwest wind and a fair tide back to Newport. Finally, this was a great first sail — the new jib worked well and the grub was good. The sailing season’s on! To windward!